Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Review: Nectar in a Sieve

Hope, and fear. Twin forces that tugged at us first in one direction, and then another, and which was the stronger no one could say. Of the latter, we never spoke, but it was always with us. Fear, constant companion of the peasant.
(Nectar in a Sieve, Chapter 14)

I picked up Kamala Markandaya's Nectar in a Sieve at my favorite used bookstore because I'd seen the title as one of Glencoe's free literature guides. I thought I might use it someday in the future when teaching World Literature.

Set in a rural village in India, this book (first published in 1954) follows the life of Rukmani, a peasant woman, and her family. Rukmani marries Nathan, a farmer she'd never met, at age 12 and begins a life of constant struggle mixed with periods of pure joy. She has a surprisingly good marriage, which is unusual in most of the novels I've read/taught for World Lit. Her husband doesn't abuse her, ignore her, or disrespect her.

In some ways this book reminds me of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth. There is the continuous struggle of peasants to survive, the hopelessness of life in poverty. But there is more joy in Nectar in a Sieve—more hopefulness. My World Lit kids always complained that the books were so depressing, full of poverty and oppression. Of course we discussed the fact that this is how much of the world is, etc., and that they were all privileged—and rich— beyond comprehension to millions of people.

I loved this little book. It's the kind of book that I couldn't wait to get to every night. Markandaya's writing is beautiful, and the story of Rukmani was fascinating and engrossing. Highly recommended.

Other Reviews of Nectar in a Sieve
Reckless Reader

Life Wordsmith
Reading for My Sanity
Tattooed Books

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Transported by Reading

I'm losing myself in books this weekend out of necessity. We took our oldest to college yesterday, and I find that I can only cope by transporting myself out my real life and into a fictional one. :)

Most of last week, as he packed up to go, I was with a peasant family in India as I read Kamala Markandala's Nectar in a Sieve. Yesterday, while driving to and from the college (or rather, while riding in the car as Dr. H. drove), I read Alexander McCall-Smith's newest installment in the No. 1 Ladies Detective series, The Double Comfort Safari Club. In Botswana with the kindly Mma Ramotswe was just the right place to be when I felt the tears coming.

Today is a bright and beautiful day, but I'm planning to pretend that it's raining out so that I can justify a day spent reading and napping. I just started Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro last night. I honestly can't remember a single thing I read, so I'll have to start over today.

I also got three books in the mail from these amazing friends of ours who visited a few weeks ago: Blue Like Jazz, Confederates in the Attic, and The Land Remembers. All of these books were part of conversations at various points in their visit, and I'm eager to dig into those as soon as I finish Never Let Me Go.

And now I'm off to lose myself in reading.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

This book by Anne Fadiman has been on my TBR list for a couple of years, so when I saw it on my son's required reading list for college, I knew I'd have to snag it first. Fortunately, I finished it before he leaves tomorrow!

"The spirit catches you and you fall down" is how Lia Lee's mother describes an epileptic seizure—and Lia has many of them. Lia is the 13th child born to Hmong immigrants Foua and Nao Kao Lee and the first born in the United States. Her first seizure comes at age 3 months, when an older sister slams a door. (Her parents will remain convinced that this caused Lia's soul to flee and the mother continued to blame the older sister.) Lia's next seven years are documented here as a perplexing, frustrating, defeating mixture of cultural and language barriers, spiritual vs. medical, parent vs. doctor.

Along with the primary story of Lia's medical condition and the cultural clash, Fadiman provides a sturdy backdrop of the Hmong experience both historically and in the context of the U.S. today. The struggles that permeate Lia's story make sense when we have even a rudimentary understanding of the culture, spiritual beliefs, and ethical code of the Hmong.

Fadiman is an amazing writer. She manages to treat every person involved in this story with grace and respect. I came away from this with a huge respect for the doctors involved in this case, not because they did a great job (they didn't) but because (for the most part), they were willing and eager to learn from their mistakes. And one can't help but be in awe of the Lee family for many reasons, including the outcome of the book. But at the same time we wonder what might have happened if they had administered Lia's medicine correctly—or if she had never been treated at all.

I highly recommend this book. It's a fascinating and enlightening look into the immigrant experience in America today and the clash of two wildly different cultures.

Other Reviews:
Book Addiction: "This book utterly and completely fascinated me."
Sophisticated Dorkiness: "Anyone with even a passing interest in cultural differences, literary journalism, or stories that truly tug at your heart while still making you think should read this."
Book Nut: "what this book is, more than either of those things, is a testament to what happens when good intentions go bad because of cultural differences."
Tulip Girl: "thought-provoking and emotionally rewarding."
Dogear Diary: "Fadiman has written a fantastic book about the clash between two cultures met in the arena of medicine."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Reading Miscellany

* I have 198 books currently on my TBR list. The problem is that I keep getting books, either from the library or the used book store, that aren't on my TBR list.

* Another problem: I forget to bring my TBR list with me to the library. Once I had a copy of it that I kept in the library back, but now I've lost that particular library bag.

* My son has been ordering his college textbooks on rather than buying them at the campus bookstore. That means he has a whole stack of books that are tempting me. How much would I love to take all my college courses again? Seriously, except for Earth and Space Science and BASIC computer programming, I think I'd take everything all over again gladly. And with 25 years of perspective.

* But I am reading his The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which actually is on my TBR list. I'm not sure what class this is for, but it's excellent. I'm about halfway through; I think I can finish before he leaves for college in a week.

* Yes, my oldest is leaving for college in a week. Blogging is a great distraction.

Hopping is happening at Crazy for Books

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review: The Help

This is the book everyone's talking about, like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was in 2009. (Isn't The Help so much easier to say, though?) Funny, though: like the Guernsey etc., I initially avoided The Help because of its title. The Guernsey etc. sounded cheesy, and The Help sounded like self-help. Or The Shack. I was skeptical.

I had no idea that Kathryn Stockett's best-seller actually has to do with the help, as in "the servants." I'm a little dense sometimes.

I loved the book. I've heard it compared to To Kill a Mockingbird, and that's just taking it way too far, in my opinion. But it is excellent. Well written, poignant, never sappy, witty, and just plain readable.

So many bloggers have already reviewed this book. I don't have a whole lot to add to what they've said. I liked it. I think you should read it.

Other Reviews of The Help
The Book Lady's Blog: "The Help is addictively, compulsively readable. I couldn’t put it down. Stockett’s debut is well-written, and it is clear that she really understands Southern life and has made great efforts to understand what life was like for black women who served white families."
Patricia's Wisdom: "It is a woman’s novel in that it once again shows that when people can communicate and interact – band together they can create change and bring to light oppression, prejudice and racism."
Rebecca Reads: "In the end, I really enjoyed reading The Help (given I couldn’t put it down!). I didn’t think it was perfect, and I probably won’t ever reread it. Maybe because I went in to it with low expectations, though, I found it a satisfying, engaging read well worth the hype."
Write Meg: "An important novel that tackles Major Issues that still manages to be entertaining, lively, affecting and unbelievably moving? It’s a rare find, friends, and it gets my absolute highest recommendation."
Steph Su Reads: "What could have easily fallen into the clich├ęd ruts of Southern or black American history instead stands on its own due to its smooth writing and unforgettable characters."
The Book Whisperer: "It is worth every glowing review, every recommendation and every superlative ever written about it."
A Novel Menagerie:
"Ms. Stockett really forced me to think about not only what racial differences have done to our history, but to also consider women’s roles in American history. What stuck with me throughout my read is the truth that a woman’s heart and her love for others has nothing to do with the color of her skin nor the family she derives from."
Sensible Shoes: "The Help is not the great American novel and not particularly literary. Instead, it is an immensely satisfying, story-driven narrative. It is an airplane-book with heart. "
Maw Books: "I could not put this book down, I found myself at the stove with the book in one hand while flipping pancakes with another. At 464 pages, I almost wished it was another 300 pages long. I didn’t want it to end. I read non-stop. It was simply wonderful!"

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Sunday Salon: July in Review

Read and Reviewed
(click for review)
Mountains Beyond Mountains

My Name Is Asher Lev
Picture Bride
Elizabeth and Her German Garden

Favorite Book of the Month
Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev, without a doubt. But it was a great reading month, and all the books are highly recommended.

Currently Reading
The Help. Love it.

Tribute Reposted
Happy 50th to To Kill a Mockingbird

To Be Read in August
Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

Books Added to My Ever-Growing TBR List
Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson (mentioned at Books and Cooks)
My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira (Reviewed by at Bookworm's Dinner)

Movies-From-Books Watched
Ramona and Beezus, based on the series of Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. I loved, loved, loved this movie! Highly recommended.